How to Save the Environment, Reduce Sprawl and Keep More of Your Money: Stay Married

{more hidden costs of divorce – image courtesy of GOOD}

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) has a research paper on-line that highlights an admittedly of lesser concern negative impact of divorce. It may be obvious if we think about it; two adults living in two separate homes use more energy than those same two people living in a single home, even if that home is somewhat larger. Not to mention the extra driving involved if there are children.

As the son of divorced parents it would have been nice if I could have saved my parent’s marriage with a plea for the planet. Of course that’s unlikely, but hey, anythings that works. On a more serious note, the numbers below highlight the need for varied housing options that better reflect our society. A single person, divorced or not, doesn’t need a 2,000 square foot stand alone home, but in many places, like the metro St. Louis area for one, options may be limited.

Combine the increasing number of single individuals, a nascent movement back to “the city” and the more broad demand for walkable communities and the need for mixed housing couldn’t be more clear. One problem in a place like St. Louis is that “mixed housing” is generally equated with “mixed-income”. If you’re unaware of the hostility towards mixed-income housing in the St. Louis area read Mapping Decline.

The mode of development in St. Louis has been homogeneity. There are many problems with this, but the change needed given the topic being discussed here is simply that even people who look the same and have similar jobs require different housing. Let’s hope the status quo of wanting ones neighbor to perfectly reflect themselves can be challenged by architects and developers. And if someone can view one more promise of their marriage bond as being good to the planet, even better.

Article abstract from PNAS:

Divorce is increasingly common around the world. Its causes, dynamics, and socioeconomic impacts have been widely studied, but little research has addressed its environmental impacts. We found that average household size (number of people in a household) in divorced households (households with divorced heads) was 27–41% smaller than married households (households with married heads) in 12 countries across the world around the year 2000 (between 1998 and 2002). If divorced households had combined to have the same average household size as married households, there could have been 7.4 million fewer households in these countries. Meanwhile, the number of rooms per person in divorced households was 33–95% greater than in married households. In the United States (U.S.) in 2005, divorced households spent 46% and 56% more on electricity and water per person than married households. Divorced households in the U.S. could have saved more than 38 million rooms, 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 627 billion gallons of water in 2005 alone if their resource-use efficiency had been comparable to married households. Furthermore, U.S. households that experienced divorce used 42–61% more resources per person than before their dissolution. Remarriage of divorced household heads increased household size and reduced resource use to levels similar to those of married households. The results suggest that mitigating the impacts of resource-inefficient lifestyles such as divorce helps to achieve global environmental sustainability and saves money for households.


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